NaNoWriMo2018: The perils and pleasures of research


As THE ROUGH DRESS is in three parts – one set in rural England, the second in the inner city of London, and the third in Ontario (all in the mid-1800s) – there’s lots of research involved.

Which I love – often to the detriment of the story. I get so involved that the time goes by and I have no writing time left. Or I end up with so much research material that I have no idea how I might use it all.

I’ve partially solved this by:
1.   Separating the processes into two separate working sessions. I work on research for 60 to 90 mins in the morning, then do the writing for the same period of time later in the day. (Reversed today, as I woke early at 4:45 am and put in my writing time then.)

2. When I reach a place in the draft MS when I need more information or want to confirm a factual detail, rather than stopping and reverting to research mode, I type in a double ?? – or insert a footnote to specify the info I need – then keep writing. At the beginning of each research session I review the MS for the ?? and footnotes, and only then pursue the information.

3. For the month of November, the only reading I will be doing is research-related. Books on my To Read list for this project include, among others:

  • Voyages of Hope: The Saga of Bride-Ships by Peter Johnson
  • London Labour and the London Poor by William Mayhew
  • Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrant Experiences  1820 – 1850 by Frances Hoffman 
  • Roughing it in the Bush by Susannah Moodie
  • The Makers of Canada: The Pioneers of Old Ontario by W.L. Smith
  • The Rural Life of England by William Hewitt

And just to ensure I don’t get non fiction overload, I will also probably reread

  • The Frightened Man by Kenneth M. Cameron (an adult mystery set in Victorian London – wonderful voice, and great relationship between the protagonist Denton and his manservant Atkins)
  • The Agency (and others) YA series by YS Lee
  • Bleak House or David Copperfield
  • and any other new Victorian-era fiction I come across (suggestions welcomed)


And I will read, reread and savour all over again, Margaret Atwood’s wonderful poem Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer, the first piece I read that gave me what felt like an authentic feeling for the pioneer experience.


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